Designing your own personal tarot spreads is a cinch. Some readers create their spreads on the fly all the time. My own preferences are to see if one of the classic spreads will do the job, to maybe to create my own spread geared to my client and their question, or to adapt an existing spread. In this article, we’ll look at option three: how classic spreads can be adapted to suit your requirements.
The Adaptable Elemental Pairs Spread
This is a technique I use a lot. When a client has a complex situation, it’s possible to break it down into sections. Let’s say it’s a complicated relationship question. I might break it down into tarot elements. Like this:
- Fire: What is the attraction? What inspires the relationship?
- Water: What are the basic emotions underpinning the relationship? What emotions are causing problems?
- Air: What is the state of communication between the couple? What thoughts are creating difficulties?
- Earth: What is their practical situation? Are there any external obstacles?
As you can see there are two parts to each element. This means you can create an eight-card spread in four pairs.
I draw two cards to answer each element question, then return them to the deck and shuffling before drawing the next pair. This gives any card the opportunity to reappear. Once I’ve examined and interpreted those eight cards, I might lay out another one or two cards for advice and outcome.
You can create your own spread just like this, with the actual questions customized for your client’s situation. And if you prefer to lay out the full eight/ten cards in one go, that’s fine too.
The Stretchy Bendy Wheel of Time
This is a useful way of discovering how a situation will evolve. The Wheel of Time can be adapted to any time scale preferred. I usually use five cards in a circle with a central ‘overlook’ card. Sometimes I set the intention that the wheel reflect a whole year. Or perhaps only a few days if things are changing fast.
Generally, I have always found that tarot isn’t too good at timing. So as long as I know the approximate length of time in question, I’m not worried about precise dates within that frame.
If you prefer, when doing a long outlook you could use six cards in the wheel to represent two months at a time. Or even go crazy and use 12. Don’t forget the central card, which helps to tie the whole thing together.
The Customizable Celtic Cross
The Celtic Cross is one of the most adaptable and customizable tarot spreads ever. Many readers see it as a sacrosanct structure that can never be messed with. Yet messing with the Celtic Cross is so rewarding.
First of all the CC can be broken down into its component parts. Take the central pair of cards: the seekers’s issue and what supports/opposes them. There’s a complete spread right there. Add in card three, the root of the issue and you have an added dimension.
You can do a similar thing with the four ‘staff’ cards on the right: The seeker’s perspective, external factors/other people, guidance and outcome.
The Celtic Cross also has a built-in timeline (see below), from card four: recent past, cards one and two: present, and card six: the near future.
Sometimes when I’m doing a two-card reading. I’ll actually lay out the first six cards of the CC. I’ll only describe and reference the first two cards, but all the time, I have insights and background coming in from the other cards.
So play around and see what you can do with it. The Celtic Cross is a wonderful tool for experimentation.
The Endlessly Accommodating Three-card Spread
We’ve got a whole article devoted to variations of the three-card spread. The permutations are endless. Just remember that you don’t have to stick with the popular past, present, future format. Yet if you wish to do that, there are plenty of ways to adapt it.
Janina Renee in her book, Tarot for a New Generation, recommends you think about the question before deciding on the time frame for a three-card spread. For instance, in some cases, there’s no point having a past position because the past is already known. She suggests variations like the near future, more distant future and the really, really distant future.
Or, if revelations about the past are important, then go with distant past, less distant past and recent past.
For tarot journalers, you might even decide to expand your usual one-a-day card to morning, afternoon and evening.
When there is a developing situation, Renee suggests you could lay out the middle card first and set the intention that it represent the focus of the present situation, then the other two cards on either side represent two major influences. This spread could also be adapted to examine a past, present or future event. That leads us nicely into a more complex, but satisfying nine-card spread.
The 3×3 Nine-Card Spread
You could take any of the three-card suggestions above and build them into a comprehensive nine-card spread. For example the three cards in the first column might represent the past: specific, general, overarching. The same with the present and future cards.
Or how about taking your original three-card spread and placing two more rows, one above, the other below? These cards would expand on the meanings given in the original reading.
Nine-card spreads are wonderful for general readings too. The number nine is a magical, mystical number. Think about reading all the rows, horizontal as individual three-card combos. Or the columns… and don’t forget the diagonals. One nine-card spread could keep your attention all day with its endless permutations and possibilities.
The main thing to remember with all your tarot spreads is not to be afraid to mix it up a little. The tarot is flexible, adaptable and forgiving. You can’t get it wrong.
Cards used: The Arcus Arcanum, pub. AGMULLER